A walking guide to Singapore's Little India
From the ruddy-faced backpackers that stay at Dunlop Street for the homely atmosphere to the 24-hour Mustafa Centre that stocks everything that you’ll ever and never need, we've seen for ourselves how roti prata, Thosai, Dhal, and fishhead curry are on every corner within this little slice of transported India -- all 700 by 500 meters of it.
You probably know the travel guidebook version of Little India too. That’s why we’re doing it differently for Mumbai Week. We first took a right, then a left, then a right, then a left, and alternating turns at junctions until we reach a dead end, a page we lifted off The Lonely Planet's "Guide to Experimental Travel" by Rachael Antony and Joël Henry (see bottom for instructions).
So come along. Keep up, and we’ll show you a few facets of Singapore's Little India that you might not have discovered.
Note that this is an extract of the entire journey. For more photos and walking routes of Little India, go to the India Google Maps walking route and feel free to use and add to them.
Starting off in Little India
Start: Little India MRT Station, Racecourse Road exit
Saturday afternoon -- it's the day off for most construction workers, so Little India's slightly less crowded than usual. I move onwards to the first turn.
Right: Kerbau Road
Roadside vegetable stalls are a mishmash of color from red onions, ripening tomatoes, and pale radishes garlanded by hand-sized green chilies. Through a scratched Plexiglas door I spy boys and girls in black and gold Baju Melayu (Malay-style shirts) drumming hypnotic beats on their Kompang (traditional drums). Helmeted workers on an elevated platform replace fading gold filigree on a psychedelic house that once belonged to Tan Teng Niah (a prominent Chinese businessman and one of the early non-Indian pioneers of Little India).
A group of men sprawl amongst plastic chairs, their eyes glued to the latest Bollywood song and dance sensation on a flat-screen TV above metal pots of yellow briyani rice.
Left: Chander Road
Hole-in-the-wall, unscrubbed restaurants alongside liquor stores, and a Chinese coffeeshop. They look dodgy, but are probably cheaper, maybe even better, than the restaurants along Racecourse Road. Try the fried and flipped breakfast of egg onion Thosai at Chettinadu restaurant where banana leaves become plates, where you ladle condiments from great metal pots onto your meal.
Right: Belios Road
I ducked through an open side gate into Sri Veeramakaliamamman temple. Three women offered incense to Kali, Lord Krishna amongst other Hindu deities as a sign of their devotion. A white-dhobied Brahmin priest pointed at my sandaled feet and I retreat like a sheep. Footwear is strictly prohibited in Indian temples.
Across the road: Verasamy Road
Paisley and Cream, a cooking school, and Chinese clan associations nest above electronic shops and ubiquitous 'authentic Chennai' restaurants. A hut boasts "High-speed Internet!" next to newsstands that sell the latest glossies from Mumbai and S$5 haircuts. Business is brisk at the barber.
Left: Kampong Kapor Road
Under the apartment blocks:
- Human lines snake out of a lottery shop and people come and go with slips of 4D numbers, in hopes of winning a better life.
- Shelves stocked with handy liquor bottles and beer that costs S$3.50 for a pint.
- Last year’s laptops polished and sold for a measly S$400.
Right: Rowell Road
Once a street of brothels, Rowell Road has cleaned up its act with a museum of old toys, a gallery for avant-garde art, and even a Western vegetarian restaurant. There’s a KTV lounge here but it’s too early for song.
Left: Alleyway between Rowell and Desker Road
It’s full of red-lit rooms with heavily made-up women in waiting. There are tables of dusty rubber penises alongside Spanish Fly aphrodisiacs as stall owners haggle with prospective customers.
Right: Kampong Kapor Road
Construction outfits and boots sold at the mouth of the alleyway. Ignore them. Go into the shop. There’s a collection of shoes that go for less than S$20 and sunglasses to match. More red-lit rooms down the alleyway.
End: Desker Road, Bangla Square
A concrete square crowded with Indian workers on Carom tables. They flick discs at round wooden coins with sublime skill. Tiny shops sell Bangladeshi snacks of puffed rice in newspaper cones, sliced betel nuts wrapped in leaves, and phonecards to call home.
A young hawker wraps a betel nut leaf for me gratis (usual price -- a miserly 50 Singapore cents) to chew, suck, and spit. It’s a way to get rid of gawkers like me. The betel nut leaf stings my mouth and is sour, heady, and never seems to run out of juice -- just another experience offered by Singapore’s Little India.
For more photos and walking routes of Little India please go to the Little India Google Map walking route we created. Feel free to use and add to them.
Little India in Singapore
It’s bounded by Racecourse Road, Syed Alwi Road, and Jalan Besar. But the borders are somewhat blurred depending on who you talk to. Take the northeast MRT line to Little India Station and exit at Racecourse Road.
Instructions from "The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel" by Rachael Antony and Joël Henry:
- Pick a start point.
- Walk straight until you come to a junction.
- Turn left or right.
- Take a photo & note what’s happening.
- Walk until you come to another junction.
- Turn in the opposite direction of the previous turn.
- Take a photo & note what’s happening.
- Repeat 2 to 7 until you reach a dead end.
- Share your experiences with other travelers over wine and song.